Port Authority Sprucing up Marine Facilities and Airports

Henry Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix. (File photo)
Henry Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix. (File photo)

The Gallows Bay project, stalled since 2014, is one of many V. I. Port Authority projects that are about ready to resume or begin, VIPA’s acting executive director Damian Cartwright told the Senate Committee on Economic Development Wednesday.

Renovations at the territory’s two airports have not been stalled as long, but they were the ones that elicited impatience from senators.

Cartwright said phase one of the $250 million renovation of the Cyril E. King Airport (CEKA) will go out to bid in May. The Henry E. Rohlsen Airport’s (HERA )$140 million project will see bidding in September.

Sen. Novelle Francis said he is “disappointed in how the grounds around the airports [are] being kept up.” He said mowing the grass and taking down some wild tan tan would be a great improvement.

Sen. Myron Jackson, noting that the airport is the first place many tourists see, said the St. Thomas terminal is “sorely lacking” in its atmosphere.

Cartwright said the air conditioning units at the terminal are old and units to replace them are already on site.

Cartwright explained VIPA was planning to modernize and expand the CEKA terminal on St. Thomas before the storms, so, those plan are being incorporated into the restoration work. The plans include jet bridges, a new four-level parking garage with 700 spaces and a potential water taxi pier with a direct connection to the British Virgin Islands. He said the CEKA terminal roof replacement is almost completed. Other ongoing projects include renovation of the ticketing lobby area restrooms and drywall, painting and other aesthetic repairs throughout the terminal. The external lighting will also be improved.

The first phase of work at the St. Croix terminal includes enclosing 5,500 sq. ft. to increase seating capacity in the lounge while refurbishing the existing passenger lounge space and restrooms. Another 1,100 square-foot will be enclose to make an open-air garden to provide additional concession space. Air conditioning will be upgraded to cover this additional area.

VIPA has already begun work on converting the Gallows Bay Marine Facility into a passenger and luxury vessel seaport with the construction of a dual-purpose passenger facility to be completed by June. The dredging of the Schooner Bay channel, which has been stalled because of a needed permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, should be moving forward soon. According to Cartwright, the funding needed to obtain that permit has been secured.

Francis also had questions about the Svend Aage Ovesen Seaplane Facility in Christiansted. He said people waiting for planes are exposed to the weather and getting soaking wet. Cartwright said there is a plan to address that situation. This lead to a discussion about Seaborne’s contract that gives it sole operating rights there. Sen. Oakland Benta said, “We need to get rid of that monopoly.”

Residents might soon see less cars parked all over the sides of the roads going in and out of Redhook. Cartwright said a two-story parking garage at the ferry terminal is almost complete and expected to open in May. It will double the parking capacity at the terminal.

Another VIPA project nearing completion is the Victor Sewer Marine Facility, Cruz Bay, St. John. The new U.S. Customs and Border Protection building, currently under construction, should be near completion in September.

Senators also expressed concern with personnel decisions at VIPA. Sen. Athneil Thomas said leadership found it convenient to let go “a slew of professionals.” Sen. Kurt Vialet said VIPA is “riddled with politics,” like it is “in every administration.” He said mistakes had been made; one of them being a contract VIPA gave to Lemartec, Inc. in November 2017 as the construction manager at risk for restoration work.

Senators asked Cartwright if he is interested in being the permanent executive director of VIPA. He said, “No.” David Mapp Sr., the former governor’s brother, retired as executive director at the end of January. VIPA has 28 other vacancies it is attempting to fill –15 on St. Thomas, one on St. John and 12 on St. Croix.

VIPA has a staff of 326 employees – 205 on St. Thomas, eight on St. John and 113 on St. Croix.